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Former Congressman Loses Defamation Appeal Over Political Mailer

Oct. 21, 2022, 4:43 PM

A former Democratic congressman from Florida lost his defamation lawsuit against defunct political action committee Progress Tomorrow Inc. when the Eleventh Circuit on Friday said the committee’s mailings cited reliable sources for their accusations.

Alan Grayson, who represented two central Florida districts in the US House of Representatives between 2009 and 2017, didn’t show that the allegedly defamatory statements were made with actual malice, the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said in an unpublished opinion. Grayson submitted no evidence that would allow a jury to conclude that the defendants knew or had significant reason to suspect the statements were false, the court said.

“The defendants’ mailings and online postings cite source materials, including an official congressional report, articles in well-known newspapers and magazines, and police reports,” the court said. Reliance on these multiple independent sources is “alone” enough to defeat any claim of actual malice, the court said.

Grayson’s lawsuit claimed his reputation was tarnished and he lost his seat in congress because Progress Tomorrow and related parties falsely accused him of profiteering and spousal abuse.

The defendants’ mailings and postings accused him of abusing his position to enrich himself, hiding income on public disclosures, and abusing his former wife, Grayson said. According to the court, one challenged mailing depicted him sitting in a chaise lounge on a Grand Cayman beach with a drink close by, while another depicted a man bound for Grand Cayman with an attache case containing stacks of $100 bills and a passport bearing Grayson’s photo with dollar signs for eyes.

Grayson represented Florida’s eighth congressional district from 2009 to 2011 and its ninth district from 2013 to 2017.

The unsigned opinion was issued by Chief Judge William H. Pryor Jr. and Judges Barbara Lagoa and Andrew L. Brasher.

Byrd Campbell PA represents Grayson. Winston & Strawn LLP and Wallace Bauman Legon Fodiman Ponce & Shannon PA represent the defendants.

The case is Grayson v. No Labels, Inc., 11th Cir., No. 22-11740, unpublished 10/21/22.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Nicholas Datlowe at ndatlowe@bloomberglaw.com